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Strategically desirable Brand Name Characteristics

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    The American Marketing Association (AMA, 1960) has defined a brand as “A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors” (Lake, 2010, p.1).

    Combining functional and emotional attributes, brands embody the promise of a matchless experience to the consumer. They identify and help differentiate one company or product from the other. Since they have the potential to identify and differentiate, brands can be used in positioning and have a lot of strategic importance to organizations (Aaker, 1991).

    In recent times, the emotional aspect of the brand has gained a lot of prominence and become a key component of the competitive advantage of many organizations, helping to generate additional value to the tune of billions of dollars. The 2009 Interbrand Survey of the world’s leading brands for example shows that Coca Cola, the most valuable brand in the world, has a value of $58.7 billion, followed by IBM and Microsoft, which were estimated to have brand values of $60.2 and $56.6 billion respectively at the time.

    For the brand to generate such significant value for the organization, Schmitt (1994) writes that deliberate steps must be made to ensure that the brand obtains a high level of awareness (consumers must have high recall and recognition rates of the brand) and brand image association. When this is done and the brand marketed accordingly, it will achieve high brand equity and become a significant contributor of value to the organization.

    The first step towards this journey however involves the choice of a suitable brand name (Aaker, 1991). This paper begins by evaluating and discussing the characteristics that would make for a suitable brand name. Afterwards, the case of Coca Cola, the world’s leading brand in terms of dollar value, is evaluated in the paper to illustrate the characteristics of a strategically desirable brand name.

    Characteristics of a suitable brand name:
    A brand name can be derived from the name of an actual person (e.g. Mercedes, Hewlett-Packard, Ford, Dell), a place (e.g. Parma Ham), an animal (e.g. Jaguar, Caterpillar), an object, the deity (e.g. Nike), or it can be created from words that do not exist in the dictionary (e.g. Google, Microsoft) (Aaker, 1991; Keller, 1998; Keller, Heckler, and Houston, 1998}.

    The brand name chosen by any organization will determine the levels of recall and recognition (and therefore awareness levels) which consumers have of the organization or its products. It will also influence the brand association which the target audience have of the organization or its products. It influences the initial and later positioning of the product. Therefore, the brand name sits at the very heart of the brand equity or value generated by the brand (Aaker, 1991). In this regard, it is very important that an organization chooses only a name that is appropriate. What are some of the characteristics which make a brand name desirable?

    a)      Legal acceptability:

    The first characteristic is that the brand name must have legal recognition. That is, the name must not be currently in use by any other organization, person, or group of people. Additionally, such a name must not be a generic word or a descriptive word which has found common usage. Some examples of generic words include: computer, aspirin, cellophane, or thermos (“Overview,” 2010). Examples of brand names which currently exist (that is, have been exclusively registered for their present users) and which can therefore not be used by any other organization as their brand names include Apple Computers, Microsoft, Coca Cola, and so on.

    This is because, while such words may make for good names, their use will subject the company to potential legal challenges and lead to huge financial costs (related to brand name violation) as well as the loss of face for the organization (Charmasson, 1988; Aaker, 1991; Keller, 2003) {Lehman, 2005}.

    This can be illustrated using several examples. The first example is that of Nude, described as “a pioneering natural skincare… known for its innovative use of pre and probiotics” (PR Hub, 2009, p.1). The brand name “Nude” had been created by Bryan Meehan and Ali Hewson, and registered under the Community Trademark (CTM), a European patents and trademarks body, for the exclusive use of the two. However, L’Oreal’s (the world’s largest cosmetics firm), after failing to get the requisite permission from the two to launch a similar product under the brand name, went ahead to introduce a new line of perfumes under the “Stella Nude” brand name. Meehan and Hewson went to court to protect their brand name (PR Hub, 2009). Even though the case is in progress, the High Court in London has already declared that “Nude has a clearly arguable claim of trade mark infringement against the Stella Nude perfume” and has suggested that it may award damages as well as an injunction against the use of the Nude brand name by L’oreal’s (PR Hub, 2009, p.1).

    Another case is that of Asda, one of the largest retail supermarket chains in Europe, which was banned by the European Court from branding its ham as Parma ham (Owen and Elliott, 2003). Additionally, when a brand name very closely approximates another in the same industry or field, it may not provide for clear positioning and differentiation and may end up confusing its current and potential consumers. To ensure that the brand name is strategically desirable, the first characteristic which its owners must ensure it has is that it has legal acceptability.

    b)      Linguistic characteristics:

    Once a brand name has satisfied the legal requirements, there are certain linguistic requirements which, if satisfied, can make the brand name more desirable. According to Collins (1977) and Robertson (1989), a desirable brand name is one which is short rather than long, and unique rather than common. This is because the average consumer can easily remember short words rather than long ones. Unique names on the other hand help differentiate the product from others in the same class, while commonplace or trite names may sound boring and are easily forgotten compared to unique ones. Another characteristic of a desirable brand name is that it should indicate the functions which the product serves or the benefits which it offers (Collins, 1977; Robertson, 1989) {Schmitt, 1994}.

    In a study of the Australian automobile industry, Lehman (2005) offers various brand names as being evocative or suggestive of the functions or benefits offered by the product. These include: Escape (a Ford marque), Adventara and Jackaroo (both of which are marques of Holden), the Landcruiser (a Toyota brand name), as well as Challenger and Outlander (both of which are Mitsubishi brand names).  Other brand names suggested as being evocative in this regard include Lean Cuisine, which suggests a food product or meal that is ideal for the health conscious segment of the market (for example, one that is low in trans fats and sugar) and Newsweek (which suggests a weekly publication that deals primarily with news) (Sen, 1999).

    When a brand name is evocative of the product’s benefits in this manner, Gardner and Levy (1955) assert that it is on its way to success. According to Park, Jaworski and MacInnis (1986), it is the consumer need which will influence the choice of the brand name, when the aim is to have an indicative or evocative name. According to Park, Jaworski and MacInnis (1986), the needs which the product seeks to satisfy and which therefore should be evoked by the brand name may be functional or symbolic. While functional needs are externally generated needs, symbolic needs are internally generated and include “needs for self-enhancement, role position, group membership, or ego-identification” (Park, Jaworski, and MacInnis, 1986, p.139). Experiential needs on their part are needs that relate to the desire for “sensory pleasure, variety, and/or cognitive stimulation” (Park, Jaworski and MacInnis, 1986).

    The strategically desirable brand name is therefore the one that aims at evoking functional, symbolic, or experiential benefits (or a combination of these, if it is so desired for the product) in the eye of the consumer. As Sen (1999) states, the use of a brand name that is evocative is not only useful because it provides consumers with cues through which they can infer the attributes or benefits of the product, but such brand names also focus the attention of the consumer to the brand information during the information encoding stage and therefore reinforce brand association in the consumer’s memory and enhance the brand recall possibility {Sen, 1999}.Keller et al (1998) have shown that when an evocative name is used, the brand is associated with a higher recall than when non-suggestive brand names are used. According to Woods (1983) and Robertson (1989), suggestive brand names also help in the strategic positioning of the firm or its product (s) {Sen, 1999}.

    Various other researchers including Peterson and Ross (1972), Robertson (1989), Aaker (1991), and Keller (2003) have also established that for a brand name to be effective, it should be easily pronounceable, easy to remember, as well as easy to recognize. Memorable brand names are more effective because they better aid brand recall and recognition (Keller, Heckler and Houston, 1998).

    According to Keller, Heckler and Houston (1998), consumers often spend very little time evaluating the information at their disposal in the course of the product purchase decision making process. As a result, it behoves firms to have brand names which are easily recognizable and which can also be easily recalled. This can be achieved through the use of words that are highly descriptive but also persuasive. Keller, Heckler and Houston (1998) also assert that when a firm has a memorable and suggestive brand name, the cost of marketing is usually lower. This is because with easy recognition by the target audience, the cost of marketing communications aimed at generating brand awareness and association will be relatively low. Where there are no (or few) “other brand associations” in the consumer’s memory, the use of such brand names has a potent role in enhancing the brand equity (Keller, Heckler and Houston, 1998, p.51).

    Additionally, Lehman (2005, p.3) states that words which are “pleasing to the ear” are more effective when used as brand names compared to those which are not. Such words may not necessarily be in the dictionary, but can also be invented words and may be used because they are evocative of the product’s attributes or of some certain positive attribute. Some examples of such words which have been put forward include: “whumies” (which has been likened to a cereal), and “dehax” (which has been likened to a detergent) (Lehman, 2005, p.4; Peterson and Ross, 1972).

    According to Lehman (2005), how the word sounds can also influence the desirability of a brand name when the word is used either as the brand name or in the brand name. Lehman (2005) quotes research studies carried out by the Mitsubishi Company which demonstrated that when their Precis brand name was pronounced differently it evoked different perceptions and reactions. For example, Lehman (2005) states that when it was pronounced as PREE-sus, most consumers regarded it as an economy brand but when it was pronounced as PRAY-see. Additionally, most consumers thought it was a family car when it was pronounced as PRAY-sus.

    Given that the sounding of the word used as a brand name has an impact on the way it is perceived by the target audience, sound effects can be used to enhance the desirability of a brand name. In this regard, Robertson (1989) has written that certain literary techniques such as rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, assonance, as well as consonance can be used to enhance the desirability of the brand name. Lehman (2005), in his study of branding in the Australian automobile industry, gives a few examples of brand names that have made use of this technique. These include Celica and Elantra.

    According to Kocher and Czellar (2006), the way the brand name is designed can also enhance its desirability. For example, Kocher and Czellar (2006) also write that the type and style of the font used in the brand name has a substantial impact on the way the brand is perceived. Drawing on previous research carried out by Poffenberger and Franken (1923), Kocher and Czellar (2006, p.7) show that different types of fonts used may convey various images including: “cheapness, dignity, economy, luxury, and strength.”

    According to research carried out by Doyle and Bottomley (2004), when a font that matches the brand name is used, the consumer is two times as likely to choose the brand name as opposed to when the brand name is written in an inappropriate font.

    Schmitt, Yigang and Tavassoli (in press) have extended research on the impact of the typeface and writing style used on brand names to the Asian context. They studied the impact of the writing style on the way the Japanese consumers perceive brands. According to the three researchers, the Japanese have four writing styles which include kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romaji. Their study demonstrates that the use of these styles influence the consumer perceptions of brands differently. For example, when brands are written in the kanji style, the consumers ended up regarding the brand in question as old-fashioned. When the same brand was done using the hiragana writing style, it was perceived as being “soft and feminine.” Finally, the writers demonstrate that when either the katakana or romaji writing styles were used, the brand in question was perceived as being contemporary.  Accordingly, a strategically desirable brand name is the one whose font style or typeface matches the name (Kocher and Czellar, 2006, p.11).

    As mentioned above, brand names which are shorter are more desirable than those ones which are longer. Faced with long brand names (such as International Business Machines), many organizations have resorted to the use of abbreviations (for example: IBM, BMW, UPS, BP, GE, and HSBC). Yet others use a combination of alphabetic and numerical characters in their brand names (Lehman, 2005).

    Several research studies (for example, Lehman; Pavia and Costa, 1993) have demonstrated that when a combination of alphabetical and numerical characters are used, they create the perception of “superior, technical complexity” (Lehman, 2005, p.4). For this reason, alpha-numeric brand names have proved to be very effective especially for technologically advanced products such as motor cars. Lehman (2005), in his study of the Australian automotive industry, gives a few examples of such brand names as: GT (used by Ferrari’s gran tourismo), as well as SXi; CD; CDX; and Sri (for Holden), and SR6 and SR8 (for Ford). Therefore, the use of alpha-numeric characters for brand names can enhance the strategic desirability of a brand particularly for products which are technological in nature.

    c)      Cultural Neutrality:

    Another key characteristic of a strategically desirable brand name is that it must be acceptable across cultures (Aaker, 1991). Some brand names are very effective within particular countries but when taken outside their country of origin they acquire a totally different meaning from that envisaged and thereby make the brand ineffective.

    Marketing literature teems with examples of such brands. One of these is the Pinto. The Pinto was a compact car introduced by the Ford Motor Company in the seventies (Ricks, 1999). Although the brand name was acceptable in the US, its home country, when the motor company expanded the sale of the Pinto into Brazil, it discovered that the brand name “Pinto” had a totally different meaning in Brazil. According to Ricks (1999, p.40) the predominant language in Brazil is Portuguese, and in Portuguese slang, “Pinto” means a “small male appendage.” As such, it gave the brand name a rendition which was totally unintended and made it a very undesirable brand in Brazil. Another oft-cited example is that of Chevrolet’s Nova brand. It is said that the brand sold poorly in Spanish speaking countries because the word Nova in Spanish means “it doesn’t go” (Ricks, 1999, p.40).

    Research carried out by Schmitt and Pan (1994) also shows that different cultures have different ways through which they perceive brands. Taking the example of the Chinese and American cultures, the two researchers show that in the Chinese context, consumers will only have a favourable attitude towards the brand when they consider its brand name to be “lucky.” Within the American context, this is not a determinant of the desirability of a brand name. Additionally, the Chinese are more influenced by the way the brand name is spelled or written, in contrast to the Americans.

    The differences in the way the Chinese and Americans perceive brands have been explained by three reasons. According to Schmitt (1994), the first reason accounting for these differences has to do with the way the two cultures process “linguistic information.” More specifically, most Asiatic languages are ideographic (their alphabetic characters are made up of signs and symbols put together by strokes and most characters have meanings by themselves, and therefore these languages are highly visual), unlike the Western languages. As a result, brand names which are rich in visual content are likely to be more successful in the Chinese context as opposed to those brand names that are merely rich in auditory content.

    The second factor which has been put forward by Schmitt (1994) as explanatory of the differences in the way brands are perceived between the Chinese and Western cultures has to do with the different ways in which corporate and branding information are categorized within the two cultural contexts. Accordingly, where the brand is being extended, the brand extension is likely to be successful in western cultures based on the consumers’ perceptions of how well the product being extended fits in with the general category as far as the products’ “attributes or concepts” go. For Chinese cultures however, the success of a brand extension is chiefly determined by the image of the company which the consumers have (Schmitt, 1994, p.2).

    The third factor identified as contributing the cross-cultural differences in brand name desirability between the American and Asian cultures is the different values held by the two different cultures, which are determined by and derive from the disparate socio-cultural structures of the two contexts (Schmitt, 1994). For example, quoting the research done by McDonalds and Roberts (1990) and Schmitt, Simonson and Marcus (In press), Schmitt (1994, p.34) states that two of such factors include “aesthetic values and mystical beliefs.” Accordingly, while all cultures appreciate aesthetic values, the degree to which aesthetic appeal is embraced significantly varies across cultures. Some cultures show a higher degree of affinity towards a minimalist or essentialist approach while others lean more towards a decorative or ornamentalist approach. Such tastes are influenced by cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs which have developed over many centuries. In the Chinese culture, the authors argue that there is a heavy influence of religions such as Buddhism as well as a heavy dose of Confucianism that have inspired “an aesthetic of naturalism which values the expression and portrayal of nature and its objects (mountains, gardens and animals) to a degree that is not found in the West” (Schmitt, 1994, p.2).

    As far as mystic beliefs go, Schmitt and Pan (1994) have, as earlier outlined, demonstrated that luck plays a huge and significant role in the consumers’ evaluation of whether a given brand name is desirable or not (Schmitt, 1994). As such, there are some colours in China which are considered lucky while others are considered unlucky. The same goes with “numbers, geometrical positions, and names.” As far as names go, whether a name is considered lucky or not is determined by a number of factors such as the number of strokes used in writing the name, and the combination of numbers and strokes which make up different words, among many other factors (Schmitt, 1994, p.2). As a result, a firm extending its operations into this market must consider all these factors in order to come up with a brand name which is also acceptable here. In sum, for a brand name to be strategically desirable, it must be culturally neutral.

    Still on cross country cultures, Leclerc, Schmitt, and Dube (1994) have however shown that using foreign words in a firm’s branding can however arouse positive stereotypes about the product and lead to positive outcomes (such as purchase or intention to purchase) for the brand. This seems to have been the case with Asda’s branding of its ham as Parma Ham. Parma Ham is ham that is sliced and packaged in an area known as Parma, in Italy. It is also derived from local pigs in the area, which are reared, slaughtered, hung and cured in a special and distinctive manner. As a result, ham that is produced in Parma has over the years earned a special distinction worldwide for its unique purity and flavour, thus the desire by any organization dealing in ham to pass its ham off as Parma ham. The same applies to products such as the grana padano cheese, whose origins are in the Po Valley (Owen and Elliot, 2003); mineral water from the German Alps (noted for its purity); designer items from the catwalks of Milan (distinguished for the elegance of their style and design); or yoghurt and ice cream from Denmark or Hungary (Leclerc, Schmitt, and Dube, 1994).

    Examples of organizations or individuals that have used foreign names for branding their own products with a lot of success include Martin Price (the US based designer whose brand goes under the name Giorgio di St. Angelo), Pillsbury (the US based ice-cream manufacturer whose ice cream trades under the name Haagen Dazs), and Klarbunn (a wholly American mineral water brand whose name however gives the impression that its origins are in the German Alps) (Leclerc, Schmitt, and Dube, 1994).  A strategically desirable brand name therefore is one which exploits the target audience’s stereotypes to create a positive image for itself.

    In summary therefore, a strategically desirable brand name will have various characteristics: it will be short, easy to remember, easy to pronounce, memorable, evocative of the product benefits or features, it must be culturally neutral, it must be legally available, and it will also be sweet to the ear (which can be enhanced through the use of linguistic devices such as alliteration, consonance, assonance, rhyme, and rhythm). Having said that, the section that follows evaluates the coca cola brand name against the mentioned characteristics and makes useful recommendations based on the desired brand characteristics.

    The Coca Cola brand name:
    Coca-Cola has consistently maintained the top leadership position in as far as the global ranking of brands is concerned. According to the 2009 Interbrands survey, Coca-Cola was the top-ranked brand globally with an estimated brand value of $68.7 billion, far ahead of other well-noted brands such as Microsoft, McDonalds, General Electric, Microsoft, Nokia and IBM. The performance of the coca cola brand can be attributed in part to the use of a strategically desirable brand name as discussed above.

    The origin of Coca Cola is usually traced to May 1886 when an Atlanta-based pharmacist known as Dr. John Pemberton came up with the formula for what is today known as Coke. Containing ingredients derived from the kola plant (which is rich in caffeine) as well as extracts of cocaine, the product was sold as a tonic until 1905 when it was deliberately re-positioned as a soda (Bellis, 2010). Even though the Coke formula was invented by John Pemberton, he sold his rights to the product to Asa Candler (who was also a pharmacist and businessman based in Atlanta) after only one year. After taking over, Asa Candler embarked on aggressively marketing the product, leading to its popularity which has stood the test of time to date. Today, it is said that more than one billion bottles of Coke are sold on a daily basis worldwide. The name “Coca Cola” is however credited to one Frank Robinson, who was Pemberton’s bookkeeper (Bellis, 2010).

    Some of the literary devices that can be used to enhance the desirability of a brand name as discussed earlier include: alliteration, consonance, assonance, rhythm and rhyme. Alliteration involves the repetition of a consonant sound at the start of two or more words. These sounds will be repeated in close sequence or progression to each other. We see the use of this stylistic device in as far as the Coca Cola brand name is concerned, with the letter “c” as the consonant being repeated. Thus, we have Coca-Cola, giving the brand name an alliterative and almost poetic feel and making it both stand out and be memorable (Sterlingschools, 2010).

    We also see the use of the rhyme in the brand name. Rhyme has been defined as the repetition of two or more similar sounds and is typically achieved when vowels and words that follow after them sound the same (Sterlingschools, 2010). In the case of the Coke brand name, the two vowels deployed to achieve rhyme are “o” and “a”. When the vowels are matched, assonance is achieved and when the consonants are matched, consonance is achieved. Consequently, we see the use of consonance, assonance, rhyme, and alliteration. The sequence in which the sounds follow each other (“o” followed by “a” in Coca, then again “o” followed by “a” in cola) establishes a powerful rhythmic pattern, evidencing also the use of the rhythm as a stylistic device.

    In summary, there is a heavy dose of linguistic stylistic devices used that make the coca-cola brand name more memorable and help it to stand out. As a result of being memorable and distinctive, it can be said that the brand name is strategically desirable.

    From the preceding section above, it was stated that a strategically desirable brand name is one that is evocative or suggestive of the attributes or benefits of the product. In being evocative or suggestive, it helps a great deal in the positioning of the product or the company. The name itself was coined by Frank Robinson, Pemberton’s bookkeeper. It is a combination of two words – coca (which is derived from the Peruvian coca leaf, one of the key ingredients used in the formulation of the product’s formula) and cola (a West African plant, the kola nut, from which the caffeine extracts used in the product’s formula were derived) (Bellis, 2010).

    With that background, it can be seen that the name is highly descriptive- it tells its target audience quiet a lot about the product category under which it falls. On the basis of this brand name only (without reference to other information), the target audience can be able to rightly tell under which product category the brand falls. The name also suggests benefits or attributes which the product offers. Originally marketed as a tonic which was claimed to have the capacity to cure several diseases among them neurasthenia, the product increasingly transitioned into a soft drink and is today used a cold beverage for refreshment purposes or to simply quench one’s thirst. While the coca extracts have been associated with the ability to induce calm and relaxation and to refresh, the cola derivatives which contain traces of caffeine have been linked with the ability to stimulate.

    Even though the company bowed to pressure in 1903 and stopped using coca ingredients in their product, the suggestive benefit that the product offers relaxation, refreshment, as well as stimulation remains strong (Bellis, 2010). Accepting Keller, Heckler, and Houston’s (1998, p.53) continuum of a brand name that has the “highly suggestive” dimension at one extreme and the non-suggestive dimension at the other extreme, the coca-cola brand name can be described as highly suggestive based on its “evocable meaning.”

    According to Keller, Heckler and Houston (1998), a brand name that has an evocative name has various beneficial impacts on the organization that make it strategically desirable. Firstly, it enables the consumers or prospective consumers to make inferences about the product even where the firm does not undertake any marketing of the product. Using the example of Newsweek, the consumers may be able to arrive at the conclusion that the periodical comes out once a week and predominantly features news stories. The consumers may also be able to tell that Lean Cuisine is a food product that has low calories and Trans fats and therefore makes for healthy eating.

    Consequently, it can be said that the suggestiveness of the coca cola brand name has enabled its target audience to infer the soft drink’s attributes and benefits even in situations where the company has not engaged in marketing activities. Additionally, it can be argued that the evocativeness of the brand name provides an opportunity for Coca Cola to design and execute marketing communication activities which aim at reinforcing the relationship between the benefits or attributes perceived by the target audience and the brand itself.

    It can also be argued that another characteristic of the coca cola brand name that has made it strategically desirable is its design. The calligraphic design of the name has been credited to Frank Robinson, John Pemberton’s bookkeeper who is also reputed to have been an “excellent penmanship” (Bellis, 2010, p.1). The font used has been described as Spencerian script. The flowing script of the brand name, done in bold red, is distinctive and eye-catching and has enabled the brand name to stand out.

    According to Childers and Houston (1984), when a brand name which is inherently meaningful as the Coca cola brand is, is visually depicted, it becomes easier to recall by the consumers. This is a finding that is also corroborated by other research findings, among them that of Lutz and Lutz (1977). The studies further show that such brand names “can enhance development of memory structures for brand related information communicated in advertising” (Keller, Heckler, and Houston, 1998). Unlike non-suggestive brand names which do not evoke the benefits or attributes of the product, suggestive brands which are visually depicted such as Coca Cola do not require supplementary retrieval cues in order for the consumer to recall the brand’s supposed benefits (Keller, Heckler, and Houston, 1998).

    The other major characteristic which has made coca-cola a strategically desirable brand name is the fact that it is culturally neutral. Unlike the Ford Pinto which carried some unintended adverse connotations in other cultures such as the Brazilian culture, the Coca-Cola brand name owes its success in large part because of its ability to be successfully transplanted into a wide variety of cultures without any negative consequences or connotations – that is, it is culturally neutral. In total, it is estimated that the brand has been successfully accepted in more than 200 hundred countries where it is currently being sold, with the vast bulk of the company’s income being generated from the international rather than the domestic market.

    One of the countries in which the brand name has found widespread acceptability is China, and this can be used to illustrate the brand name’s cultural neutrality. In a study of the brand’s characteristics which make it strategically desirable in China, Ran (2010) has analyzed the morphological, etymological, phonetic, and cultural suitability of the Coca-Cola brand name in China. One of the frameworks that are commonly used to analyze cultures across countries is the Geert Hofstede framework (Hofstede, 1980). This categorises cultures on the basis of five dimensions which include: the masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, power distance, and long term orientation dimensions (Hofstede, 1980).

    Comparing the US (Coca cola’s home country) to China along these dimensions shows that the two countries are worlds apart in as far as culture is concerned. While the Chinese culture is highly collectivist, America culture is highly individualistic. Where the US has a very small power distance, China has a large power distance. Where uncertainty avoidance in China is high, in the US it is low. Where the Chinese have a very long term orientation, the Americans have a short term orientation. Apart from these cultural differences, there are also other sharp differences such as the languages spoken in the two countries (Hoftsede, 1980).

    A successful strategy would therefore require that the Coca Cola brand (including the name) be adapted to suit the peculiar cultural characteristics of the Chinese market if the brand is to be acceptable and therefore successful in that market. For example, Ran (2010) states that naming or translating a brand for the Chinese market must be done in sync with the cultural psychology of the Chinese. For example, as mentioned, the Chinese consider luck or good fortune to play a very important role in life and they will choose brands on the basis of whether they are evocative of good fortune (on the basis of factors such as the number of strokes used in the brand name, and so on) or not. As a result, it is not unusual to find brands named accordingly. Such brands include “lai-fu” which means “the coming of the good fortune” and “Jin-Liu-Fu” which literally translates to “happiness and good fortune” (Ran, 2010, p.111).

    Other cultural values which are important and after which brands are named include cleanliness, happiness, beauty, and union. Further, Ran (2010) gives the example of a brand known as Goldlion. When translated into Chinese, the brand would become jin-shi.” Given the fact the lion is idolized in western cultures since it is considered to be the king of the jungle, the brand would be very relevant in western cultures. However, Shiyang writes that in China, the place of the lion is relatively lowly and such a brand would therefore not strike the right chords.

    Additionally, Ran (2010, p.111) states that the Chinese word for lion (“shi”) sounds very much like the Chinese word for death (“si”) and therefore such a brand name will evoke undesired meanings which may boomerang against the brand. According to Shiyang, a more apt translation would be “jin-li-lai” which means “the coming of profit and good fortune.” Similarly, the elephant is well regarded and a brand going by the name of “bai-xiang” (white elephant) would be perfectly acceptable in China. However, in western cultures where English is the predominant language; a white elephant figuratively evokes the image of a failed project and would thus be inappropriate.

    But as Ran (2010) shows, Coca Cola (translated into Chinese as “Kekoukele”) has managed to overcome all the cultural complexities associated with this foreign market and achieved widespread acceptability. Quoting studies carried out by Hu (2003) on the same, Ran (2010) writes that the translation has retained the brand name’s alliterative power as well as its consonance, assonance, rhyme, rhythm, and suggestive meaning thereby ensuring that even in this disparate culture the Coke brand name remains memorable and has a high brand recall rate.

    Etymologically, Ran (2010) states that the Chinese version of the brand name can be split into two: “kekou” which stands for “delicious taste or flavour” and “kele” which stands for “something that produces happiness and makes people pleasant.” Phonetically, Ran (2010) states that the Chinese rendition of the Coca cola brand name has four vowels, and a similar number if consonants. These are located in almost the same place as in the English brand name. As a result, the brand name’s stylistic devices when transliterated into the Chinese context (alliteration, consonance) and generally speaking its phonetics are more or less similar to the English brand name. The only difference is in the pronunciation, but the rhythmic flow and pleasantness of the sound is largely retained.

    Morphologically, Ran (2010) states that the Chinese value simplicity while simultaneously deriving very deep imagery from the morphological make-up of words. According to Ran (2010), the brand name appeals to this need, given the fact that the brand name has high simplicity (it consists of just eight characters with the only four letters). Additionally, Ran (2010) has stated that its red and white Spencerian script as originally written by Frank Robinson evokes the image of a “stream.” The characters used in the Chinese version of the coke brand name are some of the most used characters in Chinese writing and are considered simple characters, not to mention the fact that phrases or idioms composed of four characters are highly regarded and also pervasive in use. This explains the reason why there is a near ubiquity of four-character idioms in Chinese language. This therefore lends the brand name to easy legibility, understanding, and recall.

    It has also been mentioned previously that luck plays an inordinately important role in the life of the Chinese and consumers tend to be very receptive to brands they particularly consider to be “lucky” or which have a suggestion of happiness and good and to be hostile to brands which have a suggestion of bad fortune. As stated, the two parts of the brand name “kekou” and “kele” suggest happiness, good taste, and fortune, which are consistent with the Chinese psyche.

    Not only has the brand name achieved visual suggestiveness, it also has a high level of simplicity, it is semantically suggestive and therefore inherently meaningful, is easily recognized and understood, and has a rich tonal quality to it. In summary, Ran (2010) finds in her studies that within the Chinese cultural context, the coca-cola brand name is culturally relevant and has largely avoided any negative connotations unlike the Ford Pinto brand name.

    While the example of the brand name’s acceptability in the Chinese market has been particularly used, a disinterested study of the Coca-Cola brand name usage in other countries and cultures shows that apart from initially being resisted on the grounds that it represented the “crass culture of the West” and of America in particular, the brand name has remained culturally neutral and this has made it a very strategically desirable brand.

    Another striking characteristic of the Coca-Cola brand name is that while it operates in over 200 countries (many of which have unique cultures, tastes, and preferences), the Coca-Cola brand name has been adopted in many of these countries with little or no modification, thus ensuring a high degree of standardization of the brand name globally (Bellis, 2010). That such wide acceptance of a standardized name can occur, points to a high degree of cultural-neutrality on the part of the brand name and further underlines its strategic desirability. With a standardized brand name, it has been possible for the Coca Cola Company to standardize its marketing campaign globally. As a result, it has stood itself in good stead of reducing marketing communication costs and the search costs faced by customers (Bellis, 2010).

    With the business environment being increasingly characterized by intense competition, the brand has become the centerpiece of enhancing a firm’s competitive advantage. Since branding begins with the formulation of a brand name, it is important for firms to have strategically desirable brand names. An effective brand name, as shown in the research paper and in the evaluation of Coca Cola, the world’s most valuable brand, should have the following characteristics:

    It must have legal acceptability. That is, it must not use generic names or names which have already been exclusively registered for use by others. Doing so may strip the organization of its legitimacy and expose it to huge legal costs.
    it should ideally have the following linguistic characteristics:
    be short
    be memorable and easy to remember
    unique and distinctive
    Semantically suggestive – it should evoke or suggest to the consumer the product attributes or its benefits.
    It should be easy to pronounce
    It should be pleasing to the ear. This can be enhanced through the use of stylistic devices such as alliteration, consonance, assonance, rhyme and rhythm.
    it should be culturally neutral
    it should have a pleasant design
    For products that are highly technological in nature, the use of alpha-numeric characters (such as GX1) or abbreviations can enhance the brand name’s positive perception.


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